Indonesia Expat
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When You Say ?I Do? to an Indonesian

While Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice presupposes that deciding whom to love (and eventually marry) is mostly just taking into consideration some factors here and there, marriage trends in today’s globalized world have made the process more complicated.

Modern-day marriages aren’t as easy and straightforward as they used to be. That’s no surprise when transnational economic, cultural and romantic relations have grown more prevalent and the number of interracial marriages is on the rise. Indonesia is no exception.

Apart from Indonesia’s flourishing economy, massive domestic market and rich natural resources, one of the most common reasons foreigners move to the archipelago is to marry and settle down with their Indonesian partner.

To understand the intricacies of marrying and Indonesia, it’s important to know more about local history.

A walk down the colonial memory lane will give us a peek at the story behind interracial marriages in Indonesia, particularly between native Indonesian women and European men. The specific pairing can be attributed to the time when European merchants, military personnel and administrators were generally male and European women came to the Indies only at the turn of the 19th century.

In their book Dutch Asiatic Shipping in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, authors Bruijn, Gaastra and Schoffer mentioned how the Dutch East India Company (VOC) sent an estimated 978,000 men to Asia, which ultimately altered the economies of the region. Their relations with the native women triggered the formation of a uniquely mixed colonial society. Interracial relations, however, did not carry weight unless couples were legally married.

The Indonesian government legalized marriage between a European man with a native woman in 1641 – and once married, the native gained full European status. At the time, this may have included extravagant social gatherings, ownership of plantations and special legal protection. For the Indonesian woman, marriage became a tool for social, economic and legal security.

Fast forward to today. Modern-day Indonesia has seen considerable changes in the world of interracial couples. Before, mixed-race couples enjoyed several perks with their marriage. Now, they are faced with a different situation that comes with the difficulties of globalization. While multi-national marriages still have social, economic and legal dimensions, they are almost always not equally favourable for both people.

You may be surprised to learn that Indonesian government regulations do not treat all married multi-national couples the same. The rules actually vary depending on whether the foreign spouse is a man or a woman. Government policies that apply to foreign wives of Indonesian natives are generally different from those that are applicable to expat husbands of Indonesian women.

The difference in treatment has been attributed to the context of working. It is assumed that foreign husbands of Indonesian women are looking for a job, while foreign wives of Indonesian husbands are housewives and mothers.

The Indonesian government has a differing perspective on these two cases. Foreign husbands should, therefore, secure a sponsorship and work or stay permit before they are issued a visa to reside in the country (husbands can apply for a marriage visa if they don’t intend to work). They are treated as any other foreigner who wants to come to Indonesia for an extended period. On the other hand, foreign wives can enter Indonesia under an ikut suami (joining husband) status, as they are assumed to be just ‘following the husband’ and the marriage certificate will hold enough weight to prove this status.

Some might argue these policies as unfair or offensive. But let us leave aside the personal and socials reasons of marriage in Indonesia and get straight into the legal aspects of marrying a local.

If you get married to an Indonesian national, you will be eligible to apply for a non-permanent residence permit (KITAS) – and in some cases a permanent residence (KITAP) when you have been married for more than two years. You don’t have to pay the annual US$1,200 to the Ministry of Manpower because this is a residence permit sponsored by the spouse.

Article 61 of the Immigration Law stipulates that a spouse-sponsored KITAP holder has the right to work; with the law granting the expat the right to earn a living for his family.

The expat may choose to work as a sole entrepreneur (and do away with the hullabloo of the work permit IMTA) or decide to work for as an employee for a company and obtain that IMTA. In the case of the latter, the company will be the sponsor for the work permit, while the Indonesian partner will sponsor for the KITAP.

While saying ‘I do’ to an Indonesian will help you get a residence permit you may also do so with a multiple-entry business visa or by getting employment from a company that will sponsor your KITAS for you.

When it comes to registering a foreign investment company (PT PMA) and in terms of the investment law, note that marrying an Indonesian will neither make you an Indonesian national nor any different from other foreign investors in the eyes of the law. You are still required to comply with regulations and the Negative Investments List.

Under Indonesian law, couples have to sign a prenuptial agreement that will stipulate that their assets are separated before they will be allowed to secure shares from the same company.

Finally, when it comes to owning property in Indonesia, there are not many advantages to being married. According to the country’s Agrarian Law, Indonesian land belongs to Indonesian people, so if you are an Indonesian native married to a foreign husband or wife, your rights to owning land do not carry over to them.

The prenuptial agreement is actually quite important. Previously, if multi-national couples didn’t get this, then the Indonesian spouse would not be allowed to own assets like property. The record would reflect shared ownership with their foreign partner. For this reason, multi-national couples had to get a prenuptial agreement if they hoped to ever have a future involving the ownership of assets like a home or automobile in Indonesia. Recently, however, this law was updated, saying that couples in Indonesia can now apply for postnuptial agreements during or even after the marriage process. This was seen as a small win for multi-national couples in the archipelago, particularly the ones that took their vows without first getting the prenup.

In the event that a multi-national couple buys land and the Indonesian spouse dies, the foreign spouse is given a year to sell the property to an Indonesian national, or else the land will be seized by the state from the foreign spouse.

There are visa and business benefits for marrying an Indonesian, but alternative solutions are readily available if you don’t intend to marry a local.

There’s no doubt that marriage has become more complicated as the world has grown globalized. Today, we find that love (or whatever reason you have for marrying someone) is now accommodated across national borders. In Indonesia’s case, the scales seem balanced with perks and caveats.

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